A Shiver of Recognition

A shiver of recognition.  

Isn’t that what all creative writers want … to have crafted a passage so powerful and compelling that the reader physically trembles at the emotional memory or the sudden insight triggered by the words on the page.  

The first time I heard that phrase was last week in a workshop run by one of my fellow trekkers in Nepal. A full-time teacher of creative writing, Yasmina has taken on the daunting task of getting each member of the trekking group to share his or her experience in written form. Many in the group have little experience with creative writing and struggle with how to even start to record their thoughts and feelings.

Yasmina walked us through a series of exercises that were thought-provoking even for an experienced writer. But when she threw out that phrase–“ a shiver of recognition”– as the goal of our scribbling, it seemed a moment of synchronicity.  

I was meant to be there.

I was meant to be there because my “job” for the foreseeable future is to complete the final draft of my novel, A FITTING PLACE.  I’ve had great encouragement from beta readers, who connect with my characters and love the plot. But as Yasmina’s phrase echoed in my brain, I knew what is still missing from my story.  My two primary characters are interesting because they are more than a bit out of the ordinary. But if I cannot write their out-of-the-ordinary story in a way that causes my readers to have that shiver of recognition, I should stop now.

I will not stop.  I will write it so that my readers tremble.  The question is how do I do that.

And what about those of you who are writers?  Do you struggle with that “how”?


  1. I love it when I find just the right words. It doesn’t happen as often as I wish it did, but I find it happens more often, the deeper I go into the depths of a character/scene/dialogue, the more I rewrite. Good luck your novel, Mary!

    • That” shiver of recognition” is a powerful statement that sent a shiver of recognition down my author’s spine. Hard to define, but you know it when you see it, I guess. You gave me a task for the next for weeks as I’m about to wrap up my creative non-fiction book: “I once had farm in Ireland.” Thank you and Happy Thanksgiving.

      • Carol and Siggy … you’re right that it’s hard to define or write a prescription, but you do know it when you see it. There are several scenes in A FITTING PLACE that create the shiver in my mind (I could be prejudiced), but I know I need more.

  2. That “shiver of recognition.” Who knows the “how” of it? It just comes. The words tumble out as if divinely inspired or channeling a spirit. Words, sentences, whole paragraphs. You look at them in wonder and ask yourself, “Did I write them?”

    • I think of that “divinely inspired” information as a collective consciousness that is open to all of us, but it only comes when we intentionally ask for it. It is purposefully mysterious, and it is always an expansion of the truth.

      • Lloyd .. oh my … it’s not just the mystery of it, but the fact that we manage to articulate — perhaps stumble upon–some human truth that is larger than ourselves. I know this is why I write.

    • As with my response to Carol and Siggy … I’m hoping for the “divine inspiration” when I finally (soon) get back to working on the novel. Wish me lots of inspiration!

  3. I had a reader comment once on e particular line in my first book. It knocked me over to think that someone liked a single line enough to publicly comment on it. Now I usually work as hard as I can to minimize particularly “poetic” turns in case they slow down the story and reveal too much of the “author” lurking behind the prose. But if it ever happens, I’m thrilled. Shivers like that one are nice to receive. It’s all the other ones I shrink away from.

    • Richard, I read your blog today and I’ve been pondering what my “touchstone” or muse is for A FITTING PLACE. But even thinking about it is drawing me toward the essence of the story I want to tell. Food for thought. Thanks

  4. Great question,Mary. I think that “sliver of recognition” comes when we are moved by our own words..” No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader” It seems we have to dig deeply and write our way through the feelings to find it. Best wishes on your novel!

    • Thanks, Kathleen … interesting slip of the pen from “shiver” to “sliver” … it adds a nice perspective to the concept … not heavy-handed, but just that fine touch that resonates with the reader. I’m watching your progress on your memoir!

  5. Oh absolutely…a shiver of recognition is so apt a description and of course the challenge is to make it a universal shiver, which is is tough since each reader will have a different socio-emotional and perhaps even cultural background than our own. Good luck on your novel!

  6. Pat … you’re so right about trying to reach across different cultures and experiences … the challenge for my novel is a very straight woman who finds herself in a lesbian relationship … how to capture her reactions in a way that both straight and gay women will “recognize.” BTW … love the photo on your website … where is it … reminds me of my recent journey to Nepal?

  7. Paige Adams Strickland says

    I LOVE those moments of synchronicity both is writing and in other areas of living! Great article! P.

  8. I took a look at I like J. A. Beard’s book Mary Gottschalk posted a link: J. A. Beard’s Unnecessary Musings title which is my ‘Divine Intervention’. Geneva M. Neale (Audain) 0412 2012

    • Thanks for your response .. but I don’t allow unsolicited marketing on my website. I look forward to connecting in a more substantive context.